April 20, 2021, is another day that will be marked in history as a turning point in America’s racial reckoning. The question now is what we will learn from this moment.
When a jury unanimously convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts of murder for the death of George Floyd, history was written. What’s tragic is that such a verdict is so revolutionary.
As I watched the judge read the verdict on this Tuesday afternoon, I recalled the Bible study lesson I taught just last Sunday from Ecclesiastes chapter 10. The first verse of that chapter says, “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odor; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.”
That’s the ancient equivalent of our American saying, “One rotten apple spoils the barrel.”
There are many lessons to be learned from the tragedy of George Floyd’s death, but perhaps the greatest is that we as citizens and Christians must demand that our law enforcement agencies stop protecting the rotten apples in their ranks. Time and again, we’ve been told all the atrocities committed against innocent Black citizens by police are the result of “a few bad apples,” but seldom has anything been done to root out all those bad apples.
Instead, the bad apples have continued to spoil the entire barrel while those in charge of the barrel contend they’re misunderstood and police unions protect their guilty members at all costs, aided by a legal system that makes it nearly impossible to convict a police officer of murder. Until today.
We should have no more sympathy — at all — for police chiefs and mayors and other leaders who refuse to root out the bad apples from our law enforcement agencies. Nor should we tolerate the system of training police officers to expect every citizen encounter to be a threat on their own lives.
Everything that’s wrong with policing in America today is driven by fear. Good leaders should know how to flip the script and show a more excellent way.
“Everything that’s wrong with policing in America today is driven by fear.”
An unrepentant Derek Chauvin was arrested and convicted and today hauled away in handcuffs largely because a teenage girl had the courage to capture his misdeeds on video. Had that not happened, Minneapolis police officials and their defenders nationwide would have explained away George Floyd’s death as another Black man resisting arrest by a righteous white policeman.
Too many white Christians have bought that line for too long. Today is the day we need to lay it to rest and believe our Black and brown brothers and sisters when they tell us about their experiences with law enforcement.
If you’ve ever uttered the line, “Well, if he had just followed orders, he wouldn’t have been killed,” please commit to saying something more constructive in the future. This is not about Black men “following orders” from white police officers; this is about white police officers feeling inherently threatened by Black men and placing them in unreasonable situations to begin with.
Derek Chauvin just got caught doing it on video. Thank God, he got caught. This time, he got caught.
“Today is the day we need to believe our Black and brown brothers and sisters when they tell us about their experiences with law enforcement.”
But he should have been fired long before the day he encountered George Floyd, who was accused of passing a bad $20 bill. Multiple accusations of abuse had been filed against Chauvin before that day, and multiple other citizens later came forward to say he had mistreated them and they now wish they had reported him.
And yet Chauvin worked 19 years as a Minneapolis police officer — with impunity. Because the system is rigged in favor of keeping bad apples in the barrel.
When you see people celebrating Chauvin’s conviction, understand that what you’re witnessing is not just elation that one police officer was finally convicted of murder. What you’re seeing is hope that this conviction will serve as a warning to all the other bad cops and those who enable them.
And by the way, this mandate should apply to U.S. Border Patrol and Homeland Security officers as well. They also are law enforcement, and by all accounts their ranks have been filled the past four years with those who share Donald Trump’s disdain for the poor and afflicted. Not only have too many of them willingly carried out his racist and cruel policies, some have delighted in doing so.
“What you’re seeing is hope that this conviction will serve as a warning to all the other bad cops and those who enable them.”
Which brings us back to those in positions of power who protect bad apples or tolerate a fly in the ointment. Ecclesiastes also teaches this: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; … whoever quarries stones will be hurt by them.”
Over time, those who seek to entrap others may fall into the trap themselves. It may not happen today or even soon, but in time truth will out. That’s a form of cruel justice, to be sure. But it is biblical justice.
Today is a day when people who are serious about the Bible, serious about following the teachings of Jesus, need to gain some courage to speak up for justice just like the Minneapolis jury did today and stop pretending there’s not a fly in the ointment.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
George Floyd and the silence of white evangelical America | Opinion by Andrew Manis
Justice for George Floyd: what went wrong and how to make it right | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
George Floyd’s murder: Knowing what cannot be unseen | Opinion by Wendell Griffen